PAKISTAN, the administration contends, is important to Western security. On that basis, it is preparing what it calls a five-year plan to funnel $500 million a year in different kinds of military and economic support. These promises, assuming delivery, top the Carter offer of $400 million over two years that President Zia dismissed as "peanuts." The new offer comes with appropriate background noises suggesting that now the United States really means business.

What is the United States getting for its money? Some suggest that the United States is, cynically, buying Pakistani support for certain American security objectives. This may be a libel on both countries. Some American officials hint, and may even privately hope, that there will be a valuable security return on the new investment. But nothing is written down, at least publicly. Those who know Pakistan best insist that it will not be joining an American-sponsored regional security arrangement, will not be providing bases, facilities or ports, and will not be giving the United States a new conduit to supply the Afghan resistance. Let us leave aside, for the moment, whether it serves the American interest, for more than a very short time, to pursue these things in Pakistan. All of them, the sources say, would be too risky for Pakistan.

As a friendly state of long standing, Pakistan has a claim on the United States. A case can be made that support offered without strings is the truest friendship. But that is not the administration's argument. Its officials portray their policy as a calculated effort to firm up an important strategic building block. Perhaps it will turn out that way. It takes faith to think so. The administration feels Pakistan is important to American security, but Pakistan feels the United States is important to its security -- not in the sense that, with the American connection, Pakistan can withstand the Soviet-Indian vise it feels itself to be in, but in the sense that the American connection will at least give its adversaries pause. Certainly that connection will heop President Zia stay tight with the key power group in Pakistan, the military.

The American position in and around the Persian Gulf does need strengthening. That leaves open, however, the question of what will most effectively strengthen it. The administration has rushed to tighten military links to a country that wants the military but not the links.It has applied an expensive embrace that promises to do a good bit more for Pakistan, or at least for President Zia, than for the United States. It is acting in the name of grand strategy, but the effects of its move will be seen first in terms of regional calculations -- Pakistan's rivalry with India, for instance -- that its policy does not address.